The effect of positive and negative memory bias on anxiety and depression symptoms among adolescents

Samuel M.Y. HO*, Joseph CHENG, Darren Wai Tong DAI, Titian TAM, Otilia HUI

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: To examine the interaction effect of anxiety and depression on the intentional forgetting of positive and negative valence words. 

Methods: One hundred fifty-five grade 7 to grade 10 students participated in the study. The item-method directed forgetting paradigm was used to examine the intentional forgetting of positive-valence, negative-valence, and neutral-valence words. 

Results: Negative-valence words were recognized better than either positive-valence or neutral-valence words. The results revealed an anxiety main effect (p =.01, LLCI = −.09, and ULCI = −.01) and a depression main effect (p =.04, LLCI =.00, and ULCI =.24). The anxiety score was negative, whereas the depression score was positively related to the directed forgetting of negative-valence words. Regression-based moderation analysis revealed a significant anxiety × depression interaction effect on the directed forgetting of positive-valence words (p =.02, LLCI =.00, and ULCI =.01). Greater anxiety was associated with more directed forgetting of positive-valance words only among participants with high depression scores. With negative-valence words, the anxiety × depression interaction effect was not significant (p =.15, LLCI = −.00, and ULCI =.01).

Conclusion: Therapeutic strategies to increase positive memory bias may reduce anxiety symptoms only among those with high depression scores. Interventions to reduce negative memory bias may reduce anxiety symptoms irrespective of levels of depression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1509-1525
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Clinical Psychology
Issue number9
Early online date28 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to express our sincere gratitude to the teachers and students of The ELCHK Yuen Long Lutheran Secondary School for their participation in this study. This work was supported by the General Research Fund of the University Grant Committee (Project number: 11606715).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


  • anxiety
  • Chinese language
  • depression
  • directed forgetting
  • emotional words
  • intentional forgetting
  • memory bias


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